Will an anti-war era follow the unpopular, unwinnable and unaffordable wars of today?
By Kevin Zeese
Is the United States on the verge of an anti-war era? It sounds impossible with the multiple war fronts the U.S. is fighting, the massive weapons industry and talk of a “Long War” on terrorism. But, these wars are unpopular, unwinnable and unaffordable. They are the types of wars that can lead to strong opposition to war.
An example of an unpopular war that led to opposition to war, is the war which began the celebration of Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day.
On the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month armistice was declared in World War I. It was made into a holiday to commemorate the end of the “war to end all wars.” Unfortunately, World War I was not the final war and after World War II the holiday was re-named Veterans Day.
The country did not want to get into a European War and when it was over most realized it had been a mistake. President Wilson was re-elected on a campaign slogan “he kept us out of war.” Five months after his election, the U.S. was in World War I.
To convince Americans to support the war there was a widespread domestic public relations campaign involving tens of thousands of carefully selected community leaders speaking out for entry into the war. The propaganda included the use of newsreels, posters, books, magazine and newspaper articles.
But when the war ended there was a severe re-evaluation of the war. President Wilson became very unpopular and the U.S. sought to stay neutral in future conflicts. The U.S. led the effort for the Kellogg-Briand Pact which renounced aggressive war, prohibiting the use of war as "an instrument of national policy" except in matters of self-defense. There was a vibrant peace movement including the America First Committee which at 800,000 members was the largest anti-war organization in American history and others like the War Resisters League and the Catholic Workers Movement. Military budgets were squeezed and the military shrank until World War II.
U.S. military action did not end after World War I. Indeed, the U.S. continued occupations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the military intervened in Panama, Guatemala, China and a handful of others in relatively small military actions. These actions, as the most decorated marine in history, Smedley Butler said were fought for big business interests. After retiring, Butler described his career writing:
“I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
Today, business interests continue to get rich from war. And, sadly, there is not a year since 1890 that the United States has either not been in a war, occupying a country or intervening militarily in a country.
It is time for war weary Americans to say enough of war. It was a noble goal in 1917 to seek to end all wars and it should be our goal again. Indeed, for our economy and national security as well as for the betterment of the world, ending war is a goal Americans should commit to. Unpopular wars during economic crisis are the time to speak out against militarism. The U.S. will not rebuild its economy so long as 55% of federal discretionary spending is on war. A billion dollars spent on war creates half as many jobs as the same amount spent on mass transit. The U.S. is not made safer by killing civilians with drones and air strikes, or holding thousands in prisons without charges.
War is the least effective and most expensive way for the United States to achieve international objectives. The current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan demonstrate the failure of war as a foreign policy strategy. Three unwinnable wars, costing hundreds of billions annually that make more enemies than friends should be the engine for an era of opposition to war.
Today should be a day to celebrate peace; a time to celebrate armistice, an agreed upon state of peace. I know many Veterans would agree that the best way to celebrate vets is to stop creating them.
Kevin Zeese is executive director of Voters for Peace. He is co-editor of a book coming out this month, Come Home America, which reviews the history of anti-war movements in America and describes the potential of a broad-based anti-war movement.